Sissi Delmas and the Wonderful World of Lyoko
Chapter One: Absolutely, Positively the Worst

It was, without a doubt, the fifth or sixth absolute worst day in Sissi Delmas' entire life.

To make matters even worse, she had no one to blame but herself, although a good case could be made for a certain Odd Della Robbia shouldering some responsibility. She'd only known him for two days and yet somehow he'd gotten her into this mess, ruining her plans for a good start to the new school year. Speaking of Della Robbia...

"Hey, Sissi! You there? Yooo hooo!"

Even over the phone, his voice sounded intolerably cheerful, though that was probably something to do with the fact that he was safe and warm in his dormitory whilst she stood outside facing howling wind and pouring rain. Sissi tried to stop shivering, hunching her shoulders up around her ears, and practically growling into the mobile she clutched between achingly numb fingers.

"Shut up," she hissed. "I'm here."

"Sweet." His voice dripped with barely contained glee. "Think you'll last the night?"

Sissi snorted. "Of course I will, idiot. What do you take me for?"

"Eh," he said, and she could hear the shrug in his voice. "I dunno, it's a pretty strong wind out there tonight. With all the air in that head of yours, you might just be blown away if you're not careful!"

He burst out laughing, rather obnoxiously considering it was his own joke, Sissi thought, and in the background she could hear Ulrich sniggering. Her scowl deepened and she thought about hanging up, storming back to Kadic and kicking that purple-dressed moron's butt, but... that would mean losing the bet, which would mean further humiliation, and a crushed dream to boot.

Instead, Sissi replied dryly, "Real funny, Della Robbia."


She rolled her eyes.

"Whatever. All right, I'm about to go in."

"What's it like in there?" Odd asked. "Is it scary? You know, I've never seen the place at night. I heard it's haunted, and-"

"It's an old, empty factory. That's it. Besides, didn't you just transfer here? I think you're a bit too new to the place to be coming up with urban legends so soon."

Sissi smirked at the long pause that followed, Odd obviously stuck for a witty response.

"Yeah, well," he said eventually. "I've got Ulrich here too. Ulrich's been living here as long as you have."

Sissi just shook her head and laughed. Still, she trembled with cold, and as she stared into the shadowy darkness of the factory she felt the hairs rise up uncomfortably on the back of her neck, even under her thickest cashmere scarf.

She wasn't afraid, though. She couldn't be. If she did this, if she lasted the night in the old factory, Ulrich would be impressed for sure. She'd prove to him that she was a good sport, not the stuck-up, boring airhead he thought she was.

"Much as I'd love to chat a dork like you for the rest of the night," said Sissi, "I'm going to go and do a little exploring."

"Brave of you. You've got your camera?"

"Obviously. A time-stamped photo every hour to prove I've stayed the whole night. Easy."

"Well," Odd said. Sissi had a vision of him suddenly, wrapped up in blankets (possibly with a mug of hot chocolate pilfered from the school cafeteria before closing time), with that god-awful ugly mutt of his sprawled on his lap, a grin a mile wide on his face. She grimaced. "Good luck!" he told her brightly. "See you tomorrow. If the ghosts don't get you..."

Sissi swore at him, and she just had time to hear Odd's exclamation of surprise before she ended the call.

She paused for a moment at the factory's entrance, feeling the rumble of thunder echo loudly in the blank dark sky. A moment later a fork of lightning illuminated the city for the briefest of moments, throwing into sharp relief all the thousands of swiftly pouring raindrops.

Then Sissi Delmas took a deep breath, turned from the view, and walked into the building.

It was stupid, really. One conversation with Odd Della Robbia on the very first day of school (he'd tried to flirt with her! What a total loser, he didn't stand a chance) somehow led to a conversation in which Ulrich had mumbled "leave it, she's boring anyway," and then Odd had tossed his long, stringy hair over his shoulder, turned to Sissi and told her that, if she'd stay the night in the old abandoned factory across the river, Ulrich would go on a date with her.

Ulrich had yelled his protests and flatly refused, but Odd had winked and said he'd make it happen.

Sissi had agreed to do it.

She had tried to make out that it wasn't about the date, or at least not as much as she let on, but more about proving it for her own sake. Nicholas and Hervé had offered to accompany her but she had sharply refused, to which they looked more than a little relieved.

"I don't need an entourage, you know," she'd told them, making no effort to hide her irritation as they followed her out of the classroom when the bell rang, trailing so close on her heels that she couldn't have turned around without bumping into either of them. Over the roar of noise that accompanied the lesson switch-over, she had heard Odd laughing up ahead, Ulrich mumbling something disdainfully.

Mrs Hertz began to wipe the blackboard clean. Snatches of a conversation filtered through as Sissi, Nicholas and Hervé left the room.

"Jérémie, thank you for staying behind," the science teacher was saying. "Just a quick word. I was talking to some friends of mine up at the university and they've donated some old parts. I thought you might find them useful for those miniature robots you were working on..."

The door had closed on Jérémie Belpois' reply; not that Sissi cared anyway.

That bright September morning, the fading afterglow of a remarkable summer, now seemed a million years away. The cold reality of the present moment pulled Sissi back from the memory, the scowl never leaving her face as she crossed her arms over her chest.

Stupid dare. Stupid girly-looking new kid. Stupid self, if she didn't do this.

The floor she was standing on ended a little ways in, the steps leading down to the lower level half crumbled away so the few that remained lead futilely into thin air, and she sat on on a ledge with her feet swinging over the edge of it. Someone had improvised ropes, tied tightly to some invisible spot in the ceiling, and she could quite easily grab hold of one and swing down into the compound below.

Not that she wanted to. Rope burn? No thanks, not Sissi Delmas. Not if you paid her. Not even for Ulrich Stern.

Reluctantly Sissi took her hands from her pockets, where they had been trying to stay warm, and checked her phone for the time. The screen lit up, a tiny square of blue, and it was a quarter to midnight. She put her phone back in her pocket as she rested her chin on her hands, heaving a sigh that echoed astonishingly loudly in the vast, empty space. It wouldn't be so bad really, Sissi thought, if she had a friend who could come with her. Someone cool, and nice, not the incredibly dorky, overbearing members of the Sissi Fanclub (all two of them).

The clouds covering the moon drifted, the slanting windows in the roof allowing silver light to pour in. The floor of the compound was suddenly illuminated, light chasing shadows to make patterns of the structures below – rusted scaffolding, weeds forcing their way through cracks in the walls. An elevator.

She couldn't imagine this place as a bustling car factory. Probably because she'd never seen a car factory before.

Still, it was difficult to imagine this place as anything but a wreck; Sissi thought it strange that many years ago this place was dust-free and brightly-lit, and people came in here every morning to go to work. She wondered what events had led to it falling into ruin.

Compulsively, her hand reached for her mobile phone once more. She growled at it and considered dropping it over the ledge at the harsh truth it told her; that it had just turned midnight. Seven hours to go, or thereabouts, until it got light.

Sissi heaved a sigh. The amusement at realising she could see her breath when she exhaled distracted her for only a few minutes, until she began to notice the loss of feeling in her feet; her canvas shoes were soaked with rain and she sorely regretting not putting on at least another three pairs of socks. The night sounds around her were infuriating; the rain was a static-like constant, the water dripping rhythmically from the ceiling enough to set her nerves on edge. The emergency chocolate bar in Sissi's other pocket was soon demolished, but a little too swiftly; by the last bite she felt thirsty and slightly sick.

"I can't do this," Sissi said to herself, scrunching up the empty food wrapper and heaving herself to her feet. "Ulrich, I hope you don't mind the cold because you're going to be holding hands with a human popsicle on our date if I don't warm up in a minute."

The thought of the date sparked some energy into her and she began to stomp her feet on the spot. The action transformed into pacing back and forth, then walking the length of the walkway which stretched around the perimeter of the factory floor, racing off into the shadows. Somewhere along to the right was another flight of steps, sturdy and intact this time.

Hesitating only briefly when she reached these, Sissi shrugged to herself and took a step downwards into middle of the factory.

Like the walkway, this floor continued indefinitely in either direction with nothing much of interest besides the elevator, which looked broken. Sissi cast her eyes away from the shadows, afraid of what might be lingering there. The more her mind was allowed to race, occupied with nothing but its own macabre thoughts (and these fuelled in turn by hundreds of horror movies), the more ridiculous the concept of what she was doing became.

"There could be anything down here," she mumbled. The sound of her own voice was reassuring and so she kept talking as she went. "A cult waiting for someone they can use for a ritual sacrifice, or a murderer on the run, or... no, wait, I'm starting to creep myself out."

She moved closer to the wall. One hand ran across the cold stone and metal, the other clutched her mobile in her pocket. All the while Sissi's head was raised and alert. She didn't go more than a few steps without looking over her shoulder.

There was another entry through into the factory through the sewers, it seemed. The stench hit her as soon as she shouldered open the metal door, forcing her to recoil immediately with her hands clasped over her face. She forced the door back into place and walked quickly away.

"Huh. You won't get me travelling through any sewers," she called defiantly. "And if anything happens to me here, it's all your fault, Odd Della Robbia," she said. Then, more quietly and with a soft, wistful sigh, "I wish you were here with me, Ulrich."

Her mind drifted then from the scary thoughts to how this would be different if she wasn't alone. She'd be able to make jokes about mutated factory workers and ritual sacrifices, ghost stories and axe murderers, with the steady reassurance of another presence to keep her sane, another face and voice lending humour to her wild speculations. Ulrich would be brave. He would hold her hand, whisper support in her ear, and circumstances – she wasn't sure what they would be exactly – but circumstances would force him to remove his shirt, after, of course, he insisted they hug to share body heat...

Sissi smiled to herself, the thought putting a spring in her step-

Until she stepped in a puddle.

She shrieked as icy water sloshed over her foot, a miniature tidal wave crashing against her shoes and beginning to seep mercilessly into her socks. Sissi's frustration came hissed through clenched teeth, nausea churning her stomach as she thought about the sewer water, the slime and fungus, all the grossest things lurking in this dreadful, neglected place.

Absolutely the worst.

She thought about texting Odd. A dozen drafts of messages flittered through her mind – I hate you; Just wait until I tell my father about this; You are the worst person I've ever met; but such vitriol was pointless. For one thing, Odd would feel he'd won. Ulrich would lose all respect for her. Plus if any of their classmates found out she'd be practically laughed out of the school.

Maybe she would mess with him a little bit...

But her frozen fingers would barely move to tap out a message, so she thought the better of it. Instead, she kicked angrily at a piece of debris as she passed, only for tears to spring up her in eyes as she stubbed her toe.

Sissi walked on, limping now slightly with her injured foot, anger mingling with her fear until she didn't know what was driving her to continue forward. She just wanted the hours to pass until she could go home, change into clean, dry clothes, and go to bed.

For what felt like hours she explored, dozens of old boxes and machine parts revealing themselves under the light of her phone, held as an impromptu torch. Why, Sissi asked herself despairingly, hadn't she bothered to bring a torch? Her entire make-up bag, a magazine, a bouncy ball, her diary and best pens... yet no torch or survival equipment.

Sissi blamed her father. He was never very good at packing either.

Her movements became automatic, her eyes picking out shapes in the gloom enough to avoid most of the cracks and faults in the floor tiles, her hands darting out of the way of dripping fungus and insects which scrambled away at her approach. Her frayed nerves had her jolting at every little sound and she had to force her mind away from the trains of thought it wandered down. The darkness was oppressive, as suffocating as the stale stench of the air, and she thought her heart would never stop racing.

She decided to turn back, hoping she was going the right way. There was a pile of old parts in her way, heavy sacks filled with rusting bolts which spilled out onto the floor, stuck there forever amongst a pool of spilled varnish. As before, Sissi made to clamber over them.

Something moved before she did.

She froze; this sound was clearer than those of her own imaginings, closer than the creaking of old metal and the distant late-night traffic outside. Her mobile battery was draining but the blue light shone weakly, cutting a feeble hole through the shadows.

The rats were everywhere.

Their eyes gleamed in the weak light, their tails swishing like worms over the dirty floor. Sissi's scream caught in her throat; she froze, unable to move so much as an arm, simply staring at the creatures that now barred her way.

One of them squeaked.

She ran.

They scattered as she plunged forward, eliciting more squeaks which, thankfully, faded as she put more and more distance between herself and the creatures, her feet pounding and her wet socks squelching uncomfortably in her shoes.

In her blind panic, the factory felt like a labyrinth. Tears stung her eyes as she ran, bursting through doorway after doorway, tripping over obstacles. Her entire body crawled with the feeling of them, their matted fur and scratchy, fleshy paws. She had to get away, from this, from everything.

At last, she burst out onto the main floor of the compound, barely stopping to feel the burning ache of every muscle, her body on fire from the effort of running. Sissi was almost free, desperate now for clean, fresh air.

Except, where were the steps that led back up to the entrance? She couldn't remember. She knew that they were there in the darkness somewhere but she as stumbled blindly in the shadows her panic only mounted.

"Stupid, stupid," she muttered to herself in between breaths which now tore painfully at her lungs.

There was more scratching, clanking; her heart felt like it would burst through her chest at the sounds. Wiping away her tears with one clenched fist – they had been running silently down her face, which was now also streaked with grime – she forced herself to stop and think.

There was no other way up that she could see, other than...

Sissi turned. Maybe the elevator would take her upstairs. It would be free from the rats at least. She hoped.

They keypad had looked broken, she remembered. Maybe I don't need it.

There was one other button, a red circle. Without a second thought, Sissi pressed it. The elevator doors opened creakily, frustratingly slowly, but the space inside was clean, though freezing cold. Sissi ran inside, leaning against the wall and watching the compound disappear before her as the doors closed.

She knew immediately that she had been wrong. The lift was beginning to sink downwards. Down, past the ground floor of the factory (beneath the surface of the lake, she realised with a cold stab of fear), deep into the earth. The elevator was old and and moved slowly as though lowering itself even an inch took an immense amount of effort. The descent seemed to go on forever, until Sissi was breathing hard, fighting the mounting anxiety that told her she would simply go on forever, down and down and down...

The elevator stopped.

It landed heavily and Sissi stumbled with the shock of it, bracing her hand against the door to stop her fall. There was the sound of something spinning, clicking, before they finally opened.

The room was pitch black and it was a while before her eyes adjusted to the gloom. Only then could she make out dim shapes; The room was fairly plain, quite small, with a dish-shaped structure in the ceiling and walls made up of mismatched panels. She spotted the lever, fixed to the wall on her right, and she grinned triumphantly. Hope bubbled up in her, an balm against the fear.

"Here we are! Sissi Delmas, you genius. You've found the power source. Or at least, I sure hope so." It looked kind of like the set of switches Jim went to look at if he ever needed to fix a blown fuse at school, with the little box covering the lever and everything. If this was the power source for the whole factory, she could maybe get some real electricity going. Scare off those rats, find somewhere dry to make herself comfortable until morning.

Either that or the whole place would blow up inexplicably for no reason.

Sissi shrugged. She never claimed to know anything about science.

"I hope I'm not going to regret this," she said, to no one in particular.

She reached for the lever, clasped it in both hands and pulled it down.

And the room came to life.

It glowed white, electricity flooding the lights in the ceiling. Something began to rise from a sealed hatch in the floor, energy flowing through its channels and wires like blood through veins as it unfolded in three sections, a great tiered, mechanical beast, with the screeching sound of metal upon metal which had Sissi clasping her hands to her ears. At last the noise ground to a halt. It was a while, though, until her heart stopped thudding. She waited, pressed instinctively against the wall... for what, she wasn't sure.

When she was finally quite certain that there were no immediate, obvious consequences to switching on the power, she took a deep breath and turned back to the elevator. All there was left now was to see what had happened upstairs.

She only went up one floor.

The elevator doors began to open before Sissi realised it, and it opened into a room harsh and yellow with artificial light. Her eyes were wide as she took in the sight before her, her footsteps slow and quiet as she walked half-reluctantly into the centre of the room.

She had a terrible sense of foreboding, standing in the centre of those mysterious cylinders.

They were smooth and white with a barely visible join running down the centre of each one, indicating that they opened by both panels sliding apart. They stood, imposing and silent. Like upright coffins, she thought.

Perhaps with something already inside.

A violent shudder tore through her suddenly. Sissi felt vulnerable, standing in the middle of that eerie trinity, overwhelmed with the urge to escape.

What was this? Who would create it, and why?

She took a step back and made for the elevator once more. As the doors slid shut behind her, hiding the foreboding structures from view, Sissi wrapped her arms tightly about herself. Something about those weird things had unsettled her deeply. There was something else though; in the clean, crisp whiteness of them, the wires spreading from them every which way, there was a sense of something... futuristic. Something out of the ordinary, ahead of its time.

The computer on the floor above didn't look too shabby either.

That was what she found next, doubling back in the elevator which had taken her immediately three floors down, then two, instead of one. She tried not to think about this, about who or what had programmed the elevator to take her directly to that spooky room which held the power.

It sat innocuously in the centre of the room, screen blank and black, as normal, at first glance, as any office computer. Except it was more slimline, the closer she looked; compact and yet hugely complex with switches and buttons, two small screens one either side of the main one. Like the cylinders in the floor below, it was something not out of place in a science fiction movie. In fact, she thought maybe she'd seen something like it in a film before.

"A supercomputer," Sissi whispered.

There was a chair, too. It sat facing her as though it was waiting.

She strode over to it and sat down, enjoying the sudden relief of taking the weight off her feet, but startled by the chair spinning around of its own accord. Lights on the computer were now glowing; all Sissi needed to do was switch on the monitor.

She did so, studying the screen with its various windows opening like pop-up ads, the green background pulsating slightly with some strange animation effect.

It was a few moments before the girl appeared.

She was fast asleep, or so it seemed, head lolling gently on her chin and her eyes closed. Sissi stared at her, everything else momentarily forgotten. In the dead silence, the figure slept on peacefully.

Sissi screamed.

The sound flew from her mouth of its own accord; she had becoming so used, in the last few hours, to being afraid. Anticipating creeping, lurking faces behind every corner, her mind a tumult of emotions, whilst the rats yet lingered in her mind with fear making the memories sharper. All this, and coming unexpectedly face to face with another person was finally enough to push her over the edge. She stammered, eyes frozen on the screen, curled up in the computer chair with every muscle pulled taut, her heart once again hammering.

The figure on the screen woke up.

Her eyes opened, blinked once, twice, and her head shot up in alarm, whirling from side to side. The look of surprise and panic on her features was evident, mirroring Sissi's, who had now shrunk back in the computer chair with her hands over her mouth.

"Who... who are you?" the girl on the screen asked. "Where am I?"

Sissi blinked. "You can see me? And hear me?"

"Well, yes." Her voice was young and pleasant-sounding beneath the fear, musical almost, wary yet light with curiosity. "Do you know what I'm doing here?"

"I don't- there was this computer, and I just switched it on, and... Who are you?" asked Sissi.

"I... don't know."


There was a slight pause at this; the girl in the computer still looked confused and was staring about her as though drinking in every detail whatever place she was in on the other side of the screen. Now that Sissi's panic had started to subside, she could study the other girl more closely.

She looked like a cartoon character, was her conclusion. Pink hair, pointy ears, that weird earring. Huge green eyes that examined Sissi with an almost scientific scrutiny. Sissi, meanwhile, had completely forgotten about her own dishevelled appearance – something that surely paid testament to the weirdness of the situation.

"ODD!" Sissi screamed, pulling back to yell at the ceiling, ignoring the computer girl's flinch. "ODD DELLA ROBBIA. This isn't funny. What kind of trick are you playing here you dork?!"

Her bellowed words reverberated in the quiet room as Sissi breathed deeply, scanning the room critically for something to give him away; a discarded purple hoodie, or that mutt. She took in the complex tangles of wires, the strange dish beside the computer, the computer itself, state-of-the-art beneath the dust.

She knew Odd couldn't have done this.

For one thing, he'd only just got here. For another, he was no way smart enough.

The thought cheered Sissi, and she turned back to the girl in the computer, smiling.

"I don't know what this is, but it isn't a prank," Sissi concluded.

"I... yes." The girl made no effort to hide her confusion; all of her emotions in fact, sat plain on her face. Sissi was surprised to find she could read the stranger like a book.

"And you're not in on this," she added, nodding proudly at her own deducation.

"No... I don't know anything. I just... woke up."

"When the computer started up," said Sissi. Then, "Oh! I get it. You must be some kind of... what are they called... artificial intelligence thingies."

"Yes," the other girl agreed. "That could be it."

"Well, anyway," Sissi said, warming to her theme now, "my name's Sissi. I go to Kadic Academy, not too far from here, and I'm the principal's daughter."

"Nice to meet you."

Sissi blinked. It was strange to hear someone her own age greet her so nicely. The usual boast of her status as principal's daughter didn't do much to impress the artificial intelligence, but she had met the introduction with interest, not scorn. And though she was making every effort to be friendly, she still looked so lost... Sissi couldn't help but like her. The feeling of instantly warming to someone was, too, unfamiliar, but not unpleasant.

"Nice to meet you too," Sissi said, finding that she really meant it. "What should I call you?" As she said it, her gaze alighted on something on the screen, a little line of text above the window that bore the girl's face. One word, something she tried out in her head before she spoke aloud so that it wouldn't get tangled, unfamiliar as the sound was on her tongue.

"No, wait. I think..." Sissi tilted her head to the side, examining the name on the screen. "I think your name is Aelita."

It had a strange effect on the girl. Her mouth parted in a slight gasp and her eyes lit up in recognition, as though part of a puzzle had suddenly slipped into place and couldn't have been any more obvious.

"Yes," she said, nodding slowly. "Yes, that's right. I'm... Aelita. I don't know why, but I know it."

As Aelita was pondering this discovery, Sissi began to scan the various windows that had appeared on the screen. None of it mean much to her and she pulled a face at the lines of code and incomprehensible text. Something stood out though, amongst the technical things, and Sissi leaned forward to read it.

"It looks like a whole other kind of... virtual reality. I think it's called Lyoko, where you are."

Aelita nodded, satisfied with this answer. "Lyoko, huh? Okay. Is there anything that explains what I'm doing here on this virtual world?"

Sissi shook her head. "I don't understand any of this stuff." She caught a glimpse of the other girl's disappointed face and ducked her head, twisting a strand of hair nervously in her fingers, suddenly guilty. "Sorry."

"It's... it's okay."

"What does it look like, in there?" Sissi asked.

Aelita explained about the cylindrical room she found herself in. The quiet, the lines of code running down walls which gave off an ethereal glow, the perpetual sense of something shifting even though she sat quite still, on a blue and white ringed platform that hovered over black nothingness.

"Is there no way out?"

She shrugged. "I can't see any doors. Should I go and explore?" Standing, Aelita made to walk away from the small interface in front of her.

Sissi's heart leapt. She slammed a palm on the side of the monitor, almost toppling out of her chair as she moved as though to pull the girl back. "Wait!"

The girl turned and Sissi faltered.

"Just..." the dark-haired girl said quietly, "Just don't leave me, okay?"

Sissi squeezed her eyes closed in the pause that followed. When she opened her eyes she fully expected Aelita to have scoffed at the request and left.

She cracked her eyes open again, then slumped back in her chair. She had been wrong.

Aelita sat down, cross-legged in front of the small interface, one hand resting lightly on her kneecap and the other supporting her chin. Sissi wrapped her arms around both knees on the computer chair, feet resting on the ledge which held the keypad.

"Okay. I'll stay."

"You will? Th-Thanks." Sissi shook herself, steeling her composure to mask the fear and uncertainty, and continued boldly, "It's not like I'm scared or anything. It's just that I may as well have someone to talk to while I'm waiting around."

"What are you waiting for?"

"Morning. Then I'll win the bet and that'll be that. Oh, I can't wait to see Della Robbia's face."

Aelita was staring at her blankly. It was a moment before Sissi noticed.

"I suppose I should explain."

It was the beginning of a conversation that lasted through the night, meandering through topics with growing ease until Sissi's eyes began to drift closed.

She had never spent as long in front of a computer screen; nor had she ever slept in a computer chair, and her joints ached in protest when she finally awoke.

The rain had stopped and outside birds could be heard singing. It was morning at last.

Sissi stirred groggily, rubbing the back of her neck. Her hair was sticking up in all directions, eyes red-rimmed with sleep gathered in the corners. Memories flooded through her which she didn't have time to process and then she was heaving herself out of the chair in one swift, though painful, movement. Aelita's face could still be seen on the computer screen.

"What day it is it?" Sissi asked her frantically. "What time?"

Aelita on the other hand, looked stricken. "Sissi, what happened? You just switched off, like you'd shut down or something. I was calling and calling and you didn't respond-"

Sissi wasn't listening.

"No no no no. I have to get back to school. I have a class right now! If anyone realises I'm missing I'll be in detention for a year!" she was rambling as she sought her bag, wincing as she slung it over her aching shoulder. She was running for the elevator even as she spoke, slamming one hand emphatically on the button."Listen, Aelita, I'll come back and talk to you later, I just really have to-"

The doors closed on her reply, leaving Aelita alone in the room with only the sound of the supercomputer for company.

"Goodbye, Sissi," she said quietly, eyebrows furrowed in perplexity.

She placed her hand on the interface, called up a sheet of data, and began to read.

Sissi launched herself from the elevator, made a beeline for the steps (how could she have missed them last night? The sunlight streaming through the roof made everything clear, and she vaguely took in the places she had walked the night before) and leapt them two at a time. She ran the length of the bridge, bag bumping against her back and shoulder.

She was so late. She was in so much trouble.

But Sissi Delmas' heart was just a little lighter, because she had emerged victorious, with a new friend and a secret.


In the factory, in the darkest, gloomiest places where even the brightest rays of sunlight could never quite reach, something stirred.